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René Maran’s «Batouala»

Jazz-Text

Susan Allen

The polemic excited by Batouala’s controversial Preface has conditioned an enduring, near-universal acceptance of a disjunction of Preface and novel. This is the first book to challenge that premise. The fallacious underpinnings of the origin persistence of this view are shown to lie in Western, dichotomously structured thinking. Through offshoots of the civilised- versus-savage dichotomy, namely oral- versus-written, form- versus-content and music- versus-narrative, Batouala’s Signifyin(g) discourse spills beyond the novel’s borders to reveal the sterility of dichotomy as a conceptualising structure. Dichotomy’s anachronism is thrust upon it through the work’s faithful representation of African ontology, whose water-inspired philosophy precludes it. Batouala’s structural basis is compared with that of jazz, which similarly bridges European and African civilisations, and whose African philosophical stance also acts as a provocation to the dichotomous thinking model. As Batouala «Fixed» transmutes to Batouala «Free», the pejorative implications of its widely touted ambiguity evaporate to expose a novel that is both lucid and coherent when viewed as jazz-text and jazz performance.
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5. Let the Jazz Performance Begin Batouala’s Preface

Extract

Removed from the hysteria which greeted its original revelations and disengaged from subsequent political, social and historical racially focused movements, the controversy surrounding Batouala’s Preface has dissipated. Its place has been resumed by a more diffuse alienation of its audience linked to the perceived irreconcilable nature of Preface and novel, for which the Preface is largely held responsible. The lingering discomfort surrounding this chronic stalemate has been a key factor in ongoing reluctance to reappraise Batouala and a major impediment to reassessment of its literary merits.

In spite of almost a further century’s rapprochement of African and French cultures, Preface and novel continue to be discussed as discrete entities and their inharmonious relationship assumed. Keith Cameron finds the Preface “strangely detached”,536 while Ikonné bluntly questions why Maran wrote it at all.537 “Tous les critiques sont d’accord pour dire qu’il s’agit de deux ouvrages foncièrement différents l’un de l’autre”, writes Ojo-Ade.538 Edwards, alone, injects a note of caution, citing “the few passages in the novel itself that seem to echo the critique of colonialism in the preface”.539

Throughout his life, Maran insisted on a role for his Preface beyond its original immediate historical imperative. Two years before his death he confided to friend and colleague, René Violaines, thatBatouala was not issued in a Livre de Poche edition because he would not agree to the excision of the Preface. “[J]e ne l’ai jamais permis et, de mon vivant, ne m’y ← 158 | 159 →r...

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